The US “The Intercept” website dealt, in an extensive investigation, with a US pressure group that has political and financial ties to Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and is working to incite against Iran and its nuclear project.
The Intercept website said that in partnership with the “Turkish Democracy Project”, a political pressure group was launched this summer with the stated aim of strengthening democracy in Turkey, but it has a strange feature represented in the absence of Turkish members in its leadership council.
In a press release announcing its creation, the organization said it was “committed to encouraging Turkey to adopt more democratic policies”.
The names of the two Turkish people publicly involved in the project – former Turkish politician Aykan Erdemir and Turkish academic Suleyman Ozeren – were removed from the list of advisory board members on the group’s website shortly after its launch.
The site added that although there are no actual Turks associated with the group, the “Turkish Democracy Project” boasts a list full of hardline former US officials and diplomats with close ties to Israel and the Arab Gulf states, including Frances Townsend, a former counter-terrorism official.
In the administration of President George W. Bush, former US Senator Joseph Lieberman, and the famous National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, John Bolton.
Bolton, known for his support of the US confrontation with Iran, tweeted at the time of the launch of the “Turkey Project for Democracy”, saying: “It is time to sound the alarm about Turkey”.
The Intercept website pointed out that under the rule of the Justice and Development Party, democracy in Turkey has faced serious setbacks in recent years, but what the Turkish Democracy Project does to address this particular problem is not clear.
However, the organization has links to a network of well-funded black money groups that promote US foreign policy positions in the Middle East that align with Saudi, Emirati, and Israeli security interests.
At the heart of it all is Mark Wallace, the former ambassador to the George W. Bush administration to the United Nations.
Wallace is currently the head of not only the Turkish Democracy Project, but also the anti-Iranian organization United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), and even an arts-based nonprofit focused on human rights in Iran called PaykanArtCar.
Eight out of the 11 members of the senior leadership and advisory board of the “Turkish Democracy Project” hold positions at UANI, CEP, or both.
Questions have been raised about United Against Nuclear Iran and the Counter Extremism Project’s goals and sources of funding, including whether they receive financial support from foreign governments and political figures.
The Turkish Democracy Project didn’t respond to a request for comment on its funding and sources of support.
The Turkish Democracy Project hasn’t yet provided public information about its funding.
But the closely related organizations UANI and CEP both fall under the umbrella of an organization known as Counter Extremism Project United.
Although none of its sources of funding have been disclosed, this network of organizations brought in more than $101 million between 2009 and 2019, according to a review of tax returns, making it one of the largest US foreign policy dark money lobby networks currently operating.
A July 2021 article on corporate and government news website Intelligence Online about the creation of the “Turkish Democracy Project” cited Wallace’s extensive relationships with well-known billionaire and investor Thomas Kaplan as an outspoken financier and supporter of Wallace’s Iran-related groups.
Kaplan also hired Wallace as a senior advisor to the Electrum Group, a company that invests in “public stocks in the metals and mining sector” commodities that both Kaplan and Wallace market to investors as holding or appreciating value if there is political instability in the Middle East.
The article in “Intelligence Online” referred to Kaplan’s extensive relations with members of the royal family in the Arab Gulf states.
In particular, Kaplan maintains extensive commercial and charitable relationships with the United Arab Emirates.
Efforts to examine the finances of Kaplan’s network of foreign policy lobbyists have found an unusual obstacle: the US government, which dropped a 2013 lawsuit against Kaplan and United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) that it said were funded by undisclosed foreign interests.
The government, in unusual invocation of “state secrets” as a third-party intervenor in a civil suit, claimed that allowing the case to proceed would jeopardize the national security of the United States.
Although public filings provide aggregate figures on funding for this network of organizations led by Wallace, specific information about donors remains vague.
However, there has been periodic evidence of Kaplan’s generous role in financing these activities.
Lists of UANI donors published in 2015 on investigative news site LobeLog revealed that Kaplan-controlled funds contributed $843,000 to UANI in 2013, accounting for about half of the organization’s revenue that year.
In 2015, Wallace gave a statement in testimony before the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee before serving as a witness in his capacity as chair of the CEP.
Wallace wrote: “So far we have received individual and private contributions.
CEP hasn’t received any money from foreign governments.
We have discussed CEP funding with both the US government (the State Department) and various foreign governments in the future”.
A batch of leaked emails released several years ago – believed to be from the account of the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef al Otaiba, shows the network’s pursuit of foreign funding, particularly from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
An email from Wallace to al Otaiba on 3 September 2014 indicated “cost estimates” for an upcoming “forum”, although it was not clear that the event referred to was one for UANI or the launch of the CEP, which took place in later that month.
Another leaked email from January 2015 reported UAE support for the CEP program, with Townsend asking for al Otaiba’s help arranging meetings with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
Townsend concluded her email by thanking al Otaiba for his support of the CEP effort.
Back in August 2016, former Republican Senator Norm Coleman, now a Saudi lobbyist, wrote to al Otaiba at the direction of Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir to present the tax status of the CEP.
Coleman also wrote to the UAE ambassador: “Foreign Minister al Jubeir recommended following up with you on this matter.
The Counter Extremism Project is 501 c4.
Let me know if you have any questions”.
The Intercept said that if CEP and UANI receive foreign funding, their activities may require registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, FARA, a law that requires registration for entities within the United States that engage in “political activities”.
But none of these groups was registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and no conclusive evidence of foreign funding has emerged.
“These groups are all engaged in activities that would qualify under the FARA definition of political activities,” Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, said of the organizations UANI, CEP, and the Turkish Democracy Project.
It has very clear objectives relating to the foreign policy of the United States, and it is actively trying to influence sections of the public, and in some cases policy makers themselves toward these policy goals”.
“You can do all of these types of work if you are a US citizen and funded by US citizens, but the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) comes into play if you are funded or take action at the request of a government or foreign entity,” Freeman added.
The launch of the Turkish Democracy Project this summer angered Turkey’s pro-government media, which described the organization as part of a plot by a group of the country’s enemies to undermine its stability.
Over the past decade, Turkey has been locked in an internal conflict between supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen movement, a banned political network accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt.
Turkey has also built hostile relations in recent years with Gulf Arab states such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, likewise with Israel.
Wallace and Kaplan remain at the center of a growing network of well-funded organizations whose foreign policy objectives align with the stated security interests of the governments in Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv.
Observers said the launch of the “Turkish Democracy Project” appears to be aimed more at promoting the interests of Turkey’s regional opponents than defending liberal democracy.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Organization for Democracy in the Arab World Now, known as DAWN, a Washington-based think tank focused on the Middle East and set up in the wake of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said the background of those behind the organization suggests A political goal, not a humanitarian goal.
She added, “To target a flawed democracy in the Middle East, while its board members defend and promote the absolute monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the apartheid state in Israel, and the dictatorship in Egypt, this indicates that the focus of this group is political and not based on values.